The decision of Associated Newspapers, supported by Telegraph Media Group, to seek judicial review challenging the hearing of anonymous evidence at the Leveson Inquiry is one of the biggest oddities of this saga.
I am sure the news sections of the Sunday Telegraph and Mail on Sunday in particular would look very different if anonymous sources were banned from their pages.
The same could be said of Press Gazette.
Any journalist who went on the record to say something critical of their employer would be instantly sacked.
I can recall one incident when one of the biggest news organisations in this country sacked a junior reporter because they forwarded an email on to Press Gazette which was unflattering of some of their journalists. It made a fun diary item for Axegrinder, which was cheeky but by no means damaging. We published nothing to identify the source but they did their own detective work to find out who sent the incriminating email.
How can Leveson hope to get to the bottom of what is really going on inside our newsrooms without the benefit of anonymous evidence? Presumably he will know the identities of the witnesses and he will be able to draw his own conclusions as to their reliability.
It’s all very well listening to a succession of editors assure Lord Leveson that the Editors’ Code of Practice is tattooed on to the heart of every journalist at their newspaper. But with respect, they would say that wouldn’t they?
The Daily Mail is a fantastic newspaper which has so much to be proud of – particularly its role in championing the fight to get justice for Stephen Lawrence.
But despite being probably the most powerful newspaper in the UK, it cloaks itself in a veil of secrecy which it would rightly rail against if found at any other similarly powerful UK institution.
I’m afraid this bid to ban anonymous witnesses suggests that newspaper owners have not woken up to the fact that post-hacking we are going to need to live in a more transparent media era if the public is to regain trust in British journalism.
Here is Associated Newspapers’ statement revealing that it may appeal against today’s ruling allowing some journalists to give evidence to Leveson in secret.
Associated, supported by the Telegraph, made the application for Judicial Review because we felt that there was a hugely important point of principle of fairness at stake.
It is our view that the decision of the Leveson Inquiry to admit anonymous evidence is unfair to all newspapers as it allows unsubstantiated allegations to be made without it being clear which papers they refer to and without it being possible for such allegations to be challenged or investigated.
Whilst we welcome the fact that the Divisional Court acknowledges that anonymous evidence gives rise to a risk of prejudice to newspaper organisations, we are disappointed by the decision and are considering an appeal.
My one caveat would be that Leveson must ensure that anonymous sources are not allowed to libel individuals under the cloak of secrecy and with the benefit of the privilege which evidence to his inquiry carries.